Tuesday, December 31, 2013


IN RETROSPECT..

Well, here we are at the turn of yet another year and the first thing I would like to do is to wish you and yours, whoever and wherever you may be, a peaceful and very happy 2014.

Now it seems fashionable to look back on the year just gone and record those things that have left impressions on one`s memory and doubtless television, radio and all our old chums in the media are at it.   Trouble is, they tend to concentrate on the big events - political, dramatic, highs and lows across an eclectic range of issues that have grabbed the attention.   I don`t propose to do that.   Instead, I have chosen to look back on 2013 and pick out highlights which may mean nothing to you, dear reader, but which  will live long in the memory stick of my mind.

And the best of 2013 for me was encapsulated in our visits to bite sized chunks of the wonderful south west coast path.   It began in late Spring with a stay at Mulfra, deep in the moorland of West Penwith, from where we enjoyed the walks around the Gurnard`s Head, Zennor, Sennen, Lamorna, Prussia Cove, Godrevy, Portheras Cove and especially the challenge of the stretch of coast path from Land`s End across Nanjizal (pictured right) up to the heights of Gwennap and back again.   

In May we returned once more to be seduced by the Roseland on Cornwall`s south coast and where we renewed our affection for St. Anthony`s Head, Molunan, Froe Creek, Towan beach, Pendower, Nare Head and Portscatho.   June saw us staying in St. Merryn on the north coast  and enjoying the grandeur of the Camel Estuary, The Greenaway, Stepper Point, Porthcothan to Treyarnon and another visit to Porth Joke and Kelsey Head.


In early September it was Hope Cove in south Devon and walks from there to Soar Mill Cove (pictured left), Salcombe (for a cream tea!), Ayrmer Cove, Mothecombe, Wonwell and the Revelstoke Drive around Noss Mayo and The Warren, where we discovered another of the Secret Beaches.  We also managed to find Prawle Point and Start Point, along with Hallsands and Torcross - it surprised even us just how much can be packed in to one week.



Our final getaway was to stay in Trebetherick for a week in October - the home of the late Sir John Betjeman - and we were fortunate to stay in a bungalow overlooking Daymer Bay, the Camel Estuary and Padstow. Unsurprisingly we revisited some of the places we had been to in June but also some we had missed, such as the lovely Lundy Bay, along with walks to St. Enodoc`s church  and along the shoreline to Rock as well as the spectacular ramble from Lellizick to Padstow for a well earned pasty.


So, all in all, a year to remember for us and Mrs. Snopper has already made bookings for us to take in yet more of the south west coast path in 2014.   And so for me - and especially as my dotage beckons - my retrospect is not about world events, politics, triumphs and disasters (sporting or otherwise), but more about the simple pleasures of being where we like to be, doing what we like to do and doing it whilst we still can.   


I hope you will forgive the shameless self-indulgence of this look back on the year but the south west coast path constantly reminds me just what a beautiful world we have - it`s just some of the people in it that are the problem.  So, as the last of the photos I took shows the sun going down on Hope Cove and as 2013 gives way to another New Year, I hope your own New Year is as happy and as memorable as our last one has been. 
    

Sunday, December 29, 2013

WATCH OF THE DAY..

It`s a curious thing about Christmas that television, which used to inform, educate and entertain, seems nowadays to serve up an endless stream of angst-ridden soaps, noise masquerading as comedy, old movies which included the box set of Carry On films and the mysterious notion that we are impressed and enthralled by the witless prattling of `celebrities.`   

It is indeed difficult to find much to lift the spirit once one has slumped down on the sofa.   Nonetheless, I managed to come across two or three gems, the first of which was the final of the Workplace Choir of the Year won by P&O Ferries with a quite inspired performance.   Then, of course, the first half of the Saints 3-0 demolition of troubled Cardiff City brought a warm glow in stark contrast to the late night cricket viewing from Down Under.

But the highlight for me was a delightful programme on the ever admirable BBC Four, which was devoted to telling the story of Ladybird Books.   And what blissful memories it rekindled in one who spent so many contented hours reading them to our three sons when they were much younger than the 50, 48 and 47 they are now.   There was something wonderfully innocent about those books, the way they were written and beautifully illustrated, depicting a peaceful world of happy families, rosy cheeked children and doting parents.  

The Ladybird books were on a par with the equally enchanting Deans Little Poppet Series which included the masterly saga of The Inquisitive Elf - another family favourite. These timeless volumes brought to life the stories of childhood, like the one shown above, and all this mentioning of elves reminds me of the reports from Iceland where a road construction programme has been halted by activists because the highway project might disturb the habitat of elves, especially an elf church which sits on the potential site.  The Icelandic Supreme Court is going to have to decide on the issue in the near future.  I don`t envy them their task.

Predictably enough, the highway authorities are claiming that the project should be allowed to proceed as there is no evidence of the existence of elves;  alternatively, of course, and especially for devotees of Little Poppet and Ladybird books, there is no evidence to suggest that the hidden folk don`t exist.  

It`s OK - I`ll be fine when I grow up.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


DREAM ON, BARNEY..

....but have a happy Christmas all the same.  And may I take this opportunity to wish my reader all the very best for the festive season and a peaceful and happy 2014.


THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH ?

This was the scene this morning on the lane leading to our neighbouring village, although I cannot understand what possesses people to even attempt to drive through conditions like that.   One thing that has impressed me of late is the accuracy of the weather forecasts; they got this one spot on and so we all knew what was coming and should have been prepared for problems like this.   So, well done, the Met. Office.

We`ve had all the predicted high winds with their damaging gusts, the 80cm of rain (I think that`s about three inches in old money) and now the subsequent localised flooding and chaos on the highways and byways of this fair isle.  What`s more, there`s another deluge on its way for the end of the week with yet more storm force winds, travel disruption and all round inconvenience.  Now I feel for the inconvenience suffered by those whose power supplies have been affected and for those whose Yuletide journeys have been disrupted on the roads, the airports and the railway network.

And, of course, all this has led to yet another media bonanza, with extended leading items on every TV news bulletin, local and national radio and pages of newsprint.   All very predictable.   But I have a deep suspicion that the weather conditions we`re having here in the beautiful south are pretty much the norm for this time of the year in more northern parts, where they expect it, they`re used to it, they just get on with it and they don`t make the kind of fuss we`re having down here.   I think it`s called Scotland and I think it`s called Winter.

We seem to be bottom heavy as a nation - the concentration of population in and around the urban sprawl of the capital, the frantic pace of life, of traffic, of everything - and it`s not until you get right away from this almost suffocating quarter in the south east that you realise there is a whole different world out there where the weather and the problems it might bring are just accepted as part of the natural order of things. 

But maybe it`s just me ?

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Well, here we are on the shortest day of the year.  It`s dark, it`s raining and my midwinter SADness is gaining momentum.   And I know that the season of good cheer is just around the corner when we will all be merry and bright but some truly awful things have happened of late and are still happening.  Perhaps too many to list all those that are going on around the world - Syria and the like - but closer to home we have had to endure the horror and savagery involved with the killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby, whose grieving family have been truly impressive in their restraint and dignity.  

There`s no way, of course, that any punishment dished out to his murderers will ever fit the crime, but in the same week that his killers have been found guilty, we also learnt of the unspeakable abuses carried out on the innocent by Ian Watkins, the former Lost Prophet.   He has been sentenced to 35 years in prison but again I`m not at all sure that his punishment and those of his `associates` will ever fit the degree of depravity and heartlessness perpetrated between them.

Now just these two examples here and the unending turmoil in other parts of the world lead me to wonder whether there was ever a time of such sheer brutality and barbarism. I`m sure that over the course of history there probably have been but we`re supposed to be a civilised society and we`re supposed to have learnt from history.   But we don`t appear to be doing that and I know that modern day technology and media output means that we hear and see more of the tragedies of the world than ever before but I`m still left with a feeling almost of despair that, far from becoming more civilised, humankind is becoming more and more cruel, selfish and depressingly distasteful.

Maybe it`s the shortest day.   Maybe because it`s still raining and now pitch dark.  Or maybe it`s just me?

Friday, December 20, 2013


TWO WAY STRETCH..

This palatial edifice is the European Parliament building in Strasbourg.    Once a month, on a Friday afternoon, about 30 trucks leave Brussels to make the 270-mile journey to Strasbourg.   The fleet carries over 4,000 trunks full of office documents for Members of the European Parliament, along with officials and interpreters.   This monthly circus generates over 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, but by EU treaty law the Parliament must sit for four days a month in Strasbourg (except August when the whole thing shuts down anyway), which means that the Parliament buildings, which cost close on £500million to build not that long ago, are  unoccupied for something like 300 days a year.

The costs involved with maintaining this daft arrangement are huge - and all borne by the taxpayer of course.   It`s estimated that the monthly removals cost about £170million a year;  then there is the £12million a year spent on maintaining the buildings, never mind the travel costs for the 766 Members, the staff and assorted entourage.  And there`s an interesting statistic associated with all of that, which is that when the MEPs are sitting in Strasbourg the bill for a three-night stay in the Hilton hotel is £700 each, whereas when the MEPs are not in town, the same hotel bill is reduced by 60% to £300.   

Now, any sensible organisation, faced with this kind of expenditure especially in difficult economic times, would do the obvious thing and simply stop doing it and retreat to the EU `Headquarters` in Brussels.   Trouble is, we`re dealing with the EU here and so France is very likely to veto a move to do just that, claiming that the seat in Strasbourg `represents Franco-German reconciliation after the Second World War.`   The French Ambassador to the EU has declared that, "France will defend Strasbourg very strongly and I urge you not to engage in polemics that will damage Europe`s standing.  That would play into the hands of the Eurosceptics."

Well he`s not wrong, but here`s a suggestion to enable France to insist on maintaining its precious pose as a `founding nation` of the EU......make them pay the costs of maintaining this nonsensical arrangement, because the vast majority of delegates to the EU all think it`s high time this vast expense and inefficiency was brought to a swift end. 

Encore !!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

TESTING TIMES..

So, Ronnie Biggs has departed at last, which surprised me as I genuinely thought he had done that some time ago.   No matter - and although I am sorry to learn of anyone`s passing, I`m not sure I`m quite prepared for the outpourings we`re about to have concerning this career chancer.


Already, the BBC teletext service has a 25-page (yes, really, 25 pages) obituary and I imagine plans are being drawn up for a special edition of Question Time to be screened from Rio de Janeiro, where Biggs found his spiritual home.   As well as Chairman Dimbleby and 140 BBC staff being flown out on business class, I guess the panel must surely include `Mad` Frankie Fraser (assuming he`s not dead either,) the inescapable Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and her whining opinions about everything, former Met. Police Commander Reg (Snaffles) Balsam and possibly Saints` Brazillian midfielder Guly do Prado, as he`s out injured anyway.


But the real test will come this evening, when the first of a two-part drama about the Great Train Robbery is due to be shown.   I wonder if it will still be allowed to go ahead, or cancelled out of respect for the memory of this paragon of virtue.  Wouldn`t surprise me.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013


NOBLESSE FAILS TO OBLIGE..

Yes, folks, he`s at it again.   Not for the first time, `Lord` Hanningfield has been caught out over his allowances and expenses as a member of the House of Lords.   This time he has been monitored clocking on, staying for a short while in the opulence of their Lordships House, then clocking off again.   These fleeting visits to Parliaments`s Second Chamber therefore entitle him to receive £300 each and every day he turns up.

The £300 is naturally tax free and there are doubtless other perks on hand such as House of Lords catering, drinkies and all the rest of it, all heavily subsidised by, you guessed it, we taxpayers.   But perhaps the biggest joke at our expense is that, as well as the £300 a day allowance, his Lordship is also entitled to claim his travelling expenses to get there in order to clock on and off and trouser the cash.  This nice little earner brought him £5,700 in allowances and a further £471 in `travel costs` in one month alone.

Now of course, "there is no suggestion that any rules have been broken," as a spokesman was quick to point out.  Of course not - perish the thought.   But surely there must be the strongest suggestion that it`s high time the "rules," such as they are, were thoroughly overhauled to prevent this kind of abuse happening.   And while we`re at it, it`s also high time this outdated, anachronistic, farcical pantomime was abolished altogether and replaced with a sensible Second Chamber to properly scrutinise legislation, comprising not of political place men and party donors, but of people of genuine stature who would command the nation`s respect.   

To be fair, there are already some eminently worthy and noble people sitting in the House of Lords, so why do we have to put up with the ignobility of Hanningfield, Taylor, Uddin and the rest of their unworthy ilk who contribute nothing of value and just bring the standing of Parliament into yet more disrepute?

Monday, December 16, 2013


AS OLD AS YOU FEEL ?..


As I`m now well into my 75th year I`ve started to wonder how I`m supposed to feel at my age.   I look around and some people I see appear to be `old` but in fact they might be the same age as me.   On the other hand, there may well be people who look at me and think, "Look at him - he must be well into his `70s."   So in answering the question as to how old I feel, I guess there is quite a lot of room for self delusion, especially when considering one`s physical appearance.

But it`s the mental age that interests me.   The older I get, the more things I find interesting and the more I am keen to find out about and I`m sure that having an enquiring mind is something that helps me feel that my mental age might be lagging behind my physical one.

Anyway, I discovered a way of finding out.  There are loads of websites that provide tests for you to determine what your mental age might be.  And in a desperate attempt to convince myself that I`m not yet off with the fairies, I tried a few with varying results. This one -http://yourmentalage.com/- came up with a mental age of 37 for me!!  Another suggested I was really 41 but a particularly inquisitive American site concluded that I was really 80, possibly because I didn`t understand the American questions about baseball, Fox News, Anna Nicole Smith and stuff.

So - and this is perhaps the most telling conclusion I reached - it doesn`t matter what the test results might be, neither do the perceptions of others, for I have reached the stage in life where I really don`t care about all that;  all I really know is that whatever it is that I`m supposed to feel at 74, I simply don`t.  I`m pretty sure my true mental age is about 12.

Friday, December 13, 2013


WELL, ONE OF THEM ANYWAY..


Quelle surprise!!  The other day I mentioned that I had written to the Cabinet Office about the cost of Government Christmas cards and I enquired whether, if they were funded by us taxpayers, it was about time I had one.   Amongst the trickle of cards that arrived today was one from Dave and Samantha, in a smart envelope with 10 DOWNING STREET emblazoned on the back, thanking me for thinking of them at Christmas time.   A Yuletide wonder if ever there was one but it just shows that if you don`t ask, you don`t get.

So I`m impressed, not only with the card but also with the fact that Dave managed to work it in to his busy schedule, what with flying down to South Africa and back, fending off Prime Minister`s Questions in the Commons and yet still finding time to send a Yuletide greeting to an elderly pensioner at this stressful time of the year.

Mind you, I suspect the truth is that my e-mail the other day landed on a desk in some dark recess of Government, quite possibly in the Department for Dealing with Cranks (DfDwC) whose role in life must be to deal with approaches from the bewildered and the misguided who, like me, lead their lives in blissful innocence.   Trouble is, now that they have my name and address, I might find myself on some crank offenders register.   

So maybe I should just be grateful for small mercies and leave things at that, although I notice I haven`t had an answer to my query about the cost of the Government`s Yuletide largesse.  Ah well, it`s the season of goodwill....so maybe I`ll pursue that line of enquiry once the euphoria of celebrating Santa`s birthday has subsided.

Ding dong merrily on high.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


JINGLE BELLS ?

As you can see from the picture, Prime Minister Dave Cameron is busy writing out his Christmas cards.   I discovered that he sends cards to literally hundreds of people around the world - other Prime Ministers, Heads of State, religious leaders, that kind of thing and I don`t have a problem with any of that.   Of course, cards that he sends privately to friends and family are paid for by him but I suspect the `official` cards along with the postage are paid for by us taxpayers.

If that pattern is repeated across all Government departments then the bill must be pretty big.  So, given that I`ve paid tax for 50 years or so, I`ve written to the Cabinet Office asking how much Dave`s official cards, along with the postage, are costing us and if it`s true that the taxpayers are paying, then can I please have one myself?   I`ve given him my address if he cares to take me up on the offer.

I went to buy some admittedly second class stamps today and 36 stamps cost me £18.00 -  quite probably more than the cards cost - so if Dave does send me one, I`m not sure I can afford to return the compliment, what with being an elderly pensioner struggling to survive on a fixed income in difficult financial times.   Jingle bells?

Monday, December 09, 2013


TAKE HEART...POSSIBLY..

There are, of course, many ways to ensure a good stuffing and defeat by an innings and plenty followed by another crushing defeat, this time by a mere 218 runs, seems to me to be a pretty comprehensive example of the art of serving up a stuffing in sport.   And yes, the cricket commentators, the sports journalists and the man on the Clapham omnibus are all engaged in ceremonial hand-wringing with emotions running raw from anger via humiliation and all the way to downright depression.   It`s all very predictable.

But let`s look at events on the cricket fields Down Under from a more positive point of view, even though in the process I might have to invoke the sports fan`s perennial refuge of straw clutching.  Now, in the Spring of 2003, ten years ago, Mrs. Snopper and I were on holiday in North Devon and one day we were walking up Hangman Hill on the coast near Combe Martin.  Near the top of the climb, we slumped down on a handily placed seat for a breather when along came a fellow pilgrim, who stopped and started chatting, as happens on the south west coast path.

Turned out he was an Arsenal fan and Southampton were due to meet Arsenal that coming Saturday in the FA Cup Final at Cardiff`s Millennium Stadium.  We had a little good humoured banter about the likely result and he told me that, in order to enjoy the winning, you first have to learn to lose.   And so it came to pass that Arsenal beat the Saints by 1-0 with a scruffy goal by Robert Pires. I didn`t enjoy that much, neither did I enjoy Southampton`s  later relegation down as low as the bottom of League One, minus 10 points.

But I have enjoyed the long climb back to a respectable position in the Premier League, more so because we learnt to lose in the dark recesses of those lower reaches and I often wonder how boring it must be to be forever winning, which may not only breed a certain arrogance but also an unseemly feeling of entitled superiority.  No wonder the steeped rows of Manchester United are showing all the signs of disquiet - they`re just not used to losing but maybe, like most of us, they`ll have to learn to accept it and get on with it.

So whilst, after a prolonged period of winning, the cricket Down Under may not be going our way right now, maybe we can take heart in the sure-fire knowledge that winning, when it comes around again on the cycle of life`s rich pageant, will be that much sweeter for having tasted a good old fashioned stuffing.  (I wonder if it ever rains in Perth?)

Saturday, December 07, 2013


No need for a booming headline - the picture above says it all really.   And in company with the vast majority of the rest of the world, I am saddened by the passing of Nelson Mandela, as I am saddened by the passing of anyone else.   And of course it`s right that his leaving after 95 memorable years is marked by tributes not only from the great and the good but also from countless millions of `ordinary` people.  

It`s right too that the media - the press, radio, television and the insatiable `social media` - have been fulsome in their coverage devoted to this pivotal event.   But am I alone in thinking that maybe, just maybe, all this media attention has been a little more than absolutely necessary and that, as a result, a little of the dignity of the moment is being compromised?

And so, in a feeble attempt to redress yet another imbalance, and without in any way diminishing my respect for the passing of a great man, these pages will now refrain from adding further to the almost suffocating  coverage.

Thursday, December 05, 2013


 A QUIET CONFESSION..


There has been much - arguably too much - media interest in Tom Daley`s announcement that he is in a relationship with `a guy.`  Shock, horror, whatever next?  But it strikes me as odd that he felt the need to do it at all and particularly to appear on a toe curling YouTube video.   Anyway, to each his own, but it has given fuel to the gossipy, ultra-modern, ribbon-wearing, right on, trendy, twitter and f***book obsessed, sad `celebs` who feel it their duty to show their support, however superficial and self-serving it may be, by citing Mr. Daley as being `brave` and a beacon of hope for the less assertive.

Now as one who was brought up in a world where certain `preferences` were actually illegal, I have not found it easy to adjust to the times that are a-changing, but I have reached the point whereby I genuinely don`t care and would prefer not to hear about the private life that anyone might have.  It just doesn`t matter to me and I`m not interested. And I`m especially not interested in all the media coverage, the YouTube stuff, the pages and pages written by people with nothing more relevant with which to concern themselves.

And so, being of a different persuasion to that of Mr. Daley and his chum, I have no occasion to `come out,` as such, to appear on YouTube or to hope that my own perhaps more `traditional status` will attract any sort of publicity, approval or even admiration.   Although maybe it`s time there were a few charities - even Government-funded ones - devoted to the cause of helping people like me, dishing out ribbons for us to wear to announce pride in our own `status` and arranging annual parades as a kind of `So there` bit of nose-thumbing to the rest of the world.   But then, people wouldn`t want to hear about all that, would they?

Monday, December 02, 2013


AN OFFER THEY`LL PROBABLY REFUSE..

Whilst scouring the social columns of the Sunday newspapers yesterday, I came across an intriguing item. It seems that `celebrities` and especially those who move in royal circles have a particularly advantageous arrangement with a leading motor manufacturer.   Apparently, the quasi-regal Middletons have a deal with Range Rover by which they pay just a small proportion of the normal leasing costs for their £140,000 top-of-the-range vehicles. 

A spokesman explained, "The Middletons` Range Rovers have been leased to them as part of The VIP Scheme, the idea being that you pay a small percentage of the usual fee in return for certain services - which can be as little as being seen driving around in the vehicle.  It does wonders for the brand."

Now, I`m thinking of getting in touch with Nissan up in Sunderland.   As I drive one of their cars and quite apart from all the local driving I do, I also clock up the miles on frequent trips to Cornwall, Devon and Southampton and back. (I`m off to the New Forest again on Wednesday.)  Moreover, it strikes me as odd that the vehicles driven by the Middletons of this world probably have blacked out windows which might negate the point, as people won`t be able to see them driving around.  With me, on the other hand, anyone can see me driving my Nissan so I`ll probably be more visible up and down the A303, the A30, the M3 and the other highways of my life and so be much better for `the brand` anyway.

So I`ll see what Nissan have to say about a similar deal for me.  Worth a try, although I suspect it will be an offer they`ll probably refuse and that I`ll have to go on paying the full going rate.  C`est la vie, n`est pas?

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Well, the title says it all really.   I`ve just watched BBC4`s excellent two-part series presented by Professor Jim Al-Khalili which explored the properties of light and dark matter and the implications of discovering that the light we see throughout the universe is only 4% of the `stuff` that`s out there.

Now I like Jim - he`s quite probably the best communicator of science on television and is the kind of guy you can take seriously when he explains things - it`s all about the subject with Jim and not about Jim himself, which makes a healthy change from some, perhaps more high profile, `presenters.`   And BBC4 just gets better and better, providing an impressive output of interesting, sometimes quirky, but always compelling documentaries. Now, my views on the profligacy of the BBC are well documented but I readily admit that BBC4 is worth the licence fee all by itself.

So I got interested in Jim and I discovered that quite apart from his brilliant career there is another side to him.   You see, it turns out that he lives in Southsea, which is a bit of Portsmouth really and that he supports Leeds United.   Just shows that in everyone`s life there is always a bit of dark as well as the light we see. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

THE FINAL INSULT..


This photo shows Sports Minister Helen Grant, MP, attending the opening of Maidstone United`s new ground a year or so ago.   Now, Mrs. Grant, just a couple of years after resigning as a member of the Labour Party, was selected from the `A` list as a parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party. She was duly adopted by Maidstone and The Weald to succeed Ann Widdecombe, now happily retired and put out to grass in Devon, and Mrs. Grant duly won the seat at the last General Election, albeit having cut the Conservative majority down from 14,000 to under 6,000.

Her Parliamentary career has been `chequered,`involving controversies about her expenses and there were issues concerning the employment of her husband as an `advisor` and the employment conditions of a former employee.   She rose almost without trace to become Justice Minister, which was singularly ironic, but where her performance was less than memorable and so in a recent reshuffle she found herself as Sports Minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

As such, a couple of days ago she was interviewed on Meridian TV about matters under her portfolio and was asked a series of not terribly searching questions to test her sporting knowledge.   After all, she seemed pretty sporty, having apparently represented Cumbria in hockey, tennis, athletics and cross-country, as well as being an under-16 judo champion for the north of England and southern Scotland, so you would assume that, as Sports Minister, she would know her sporting stuff.   Not a bit of it.   Despite some frantic off-camera prompting from an `aide,` she fluffed each of the questions which included `Who is the current England Rugby captain?,` `Who is the current Wimbledon Ladies champion?,`When did Maidstone United leave the Football League?` and `Which team currently holds the FA Cup?`

Now, I`m of an age when tolerance, forbearance and forgiveness have kicked in, so I can possibly find it in my heart to overlook Mrs. Grant`s `difficulties` over political indecision, expenses claims and even her tenure as Justice Minister.   Indeed, I will go as far as saying that I quite understand her inability to give the correct answer to at least some of the questions she was asked.  

But my powers of forgiveness were stretched beyond reason by her frantic searching for the answer about who were the current FA Cup holders when, despite her plea for help, she could only mutter, "Manchester United because it`s my favourite club." It represented the final insult to the intelligence of sports lovers everywhere, especially those in Wigan. They, along with Westminster watchers, may have hoped that at last  we may have found a Sports Minister who knows her stuff, whereas in reality it seems we have yet another opportunistic chancer who has found a convenient niche on the greasy pole. 

You see, for Mrs. Grant and her ilk, it`s all about the career, but I do wonder how long this phase of her career will last.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


McMADNESS..


With much tub-thumping assertion, the SNP have today launched their `Independence Encyclopedia` - a 670-page tome setting out all the advantages and debunking any anxieties about independence from the rest of the UK.   Well, it has been a fragile union and whatever the outcome of the referendum there`s little doubt that the Kingdom (why isn`t it a Queendom?) will never be truly united ever again.

The whole business is curious - weird even.   If there was a truly United Kingdom, united as one in a close-knit family, then if one member of that family wanted to leave, then surely the other members of the family might think they should be asked for their opinion?  But it`s not happening, is it?   And so I can only conclude that there are two reasons for that. The first is probably the cost of holding the referendum across the whole of the UK, so even democracy, it seems, has its price although I imagine (perhaps wrongly) that the cost of holding the referendum is being wholly borne by the Scottish taxpayers?   But the second reason may well be because, if England in particular was able to vote, then the probable outcome would be a resounding `Yes, please` reflecting the majority desire to be rid of these turbulent Scots.

The madness doesn`t stop there, however.   In yet another cunning ploy, the vote is being given to 16 and 17-year olds in Scotland, to Scots living abroad but not to those living in other parts of the UK.   It`s the kind of stuff that you would find difficult to make up or would only find in some dark Orwellian plot.

Here in the erstwhile Garden of England, the more I see and hear of the piscine sounding Salmond and Sturgeon - rapidly becoming the George Burns and Gracie Allen of politics - the more I look forward to them retreating to their Caledonian  stronghold beyond Hadrian`s Wall and leaving the rest of us in peace.

Say goodnight, Gracie.

Monday, November 25, 2013

ANOTHER BANDWAGON IN SIGHT ?

`The Media` are all over Jonathan Trott and his decision to come home from the Ashes tour and try to come to terms with his stress-related issues.   I wish him well in that and, pious though it may be, I hope he truly is left in peace and given the time and space he so clearly needs.   So I for one will be commenting no further on that subject.

Now it may seem unrelated but I couldn`t help notice the announcement today that serial do-gooder Esther Rantzen is setting up `SilverLine,` designed to provide a lifeline for lonely elderly people.  Ms. Rantzen of course, has a reputation for this kind of thing, having launched the successful ChildLine some years ago.   However well intentioned her latest wheeze may be,as someone in his mid-70s but fortunately not yet lonely enough to seek help, I think if that day ever came then the last person I would want on the other end of the line would be a gushing, attention-seeking, Damehood hunting former television `personality.`

Given the news from Australia, however, I do wonder how long it will be before she jumps on yet another bandwagon and sets up SledgeLine?


Sunday, November 24, 2013

   A TOE IN THE WATER..

My apologies for absence for a while but I had some `unwelcome visitors,` who now seem to have gone away.  I hope they stay away and that my tactic of simply ignoring them has worked.   Anyway, I`m dipping a toe in the water with this one just to see if things are now `back to normal` - whatever that may be - and how better to test the water than to comment on yesterday`s sporting `performances.`

It was an inauspicious day all round for my sporting heroes, culminating this morning when I got up a bit early to see how the Test Match was going only to witness the death throes of England`s cricketers as they slumped to a 381 run stuffing by the rampant Aussies.   Now throughout my entire career as a devotee of the beautiful game, I doubt I ever scored 381 runs all told, so England`s defeat was indeed comprehensive.

On the footy front things were no brighter - my beloved Saints suffering their first defeat in the Premier League since August, thanks to a goalkeeping blunder of heroic proportions by `Mad Artur` Boruc and a dodgy penalty generously awarded by referee Clattenburg when Saints defender Jose Fonte brushed a couple of bits of fluff off Per Mertesacker`s shirt.  2-0 to the Arsenal then, but at least the Saints stay in the top four....until this afternoon.

But my heart really goes out to my next door neighbour, avid Gillingham devotee Mr. Slightly, who once again had to suffer the indignity of his team losing at their Priestfield ex-fortress, this time to lowly Oldham.   On my way back from taking Barney out for his walkies this morning, I noticed Mr. Slightly`s car speeding off in the direction of Cuxton, presumably he was on his way to the local community refuse tip to throw his season ticket into the bin that has been especially provided for exasperated Gills fans.   Et tu, Slightly ?

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Friday, November 15, 2013

Sorry about this but I`m afraid I`m...




Tuesday, November 12, 2013

IN STARK CONTRAST..

I don`t do horror films.   I can see no fun or entertainment in being frightened out of my wits, so I avoid them.   But every now and again, one comes along that contains something quite memorable.  Just such a case is Ridley Scott`s 2001 film `Hannibal,` featuring our cannibalistic friend Hannibal Lecter, played with all the threatening enthusiasm you would expect from Anthony Hopkins.

What makes it truly memorable is the short aria written for it by Patrick Cassidy - Vide Cor Meum (See my Heart), based on Dante`s `La Vita Nuova` - a piece of music so hauntingly beautiful that it is unsurprisingly listed as one of the greatest 40 arias ever composed.  It is in such stark contrast to the rest of the gruesome nature of the film that it seems quite incongruously out of place.   But it is glorious, especially this version by Katherine Jenkins and the wonderful Rhys Meirion.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:-




Monday, November 11, 2013

THE ONLY WAY ?...


An incredible journey for Southampton Football Club, from three years ago at the bottom of the third tier on minus 10 points to third in the Premier League with 22 points from 11 games - just another 19 needed to almost guarantee survival in `the best league in the world (tm).`

In the past week especially, seemingly unremitting praise has been heaped on the club following its excellent start to the season, three players called up to the senior England squad, two to the Under-21s and two more to the Under-19s;  other international call-ups for our players from Japan, Croatia, Poland, Uruguay, Northern Ireland, Kenya and Italy;  and the manager Mauricio Pochettino being named Premier League Manager of the Month.

It`s all very heady stuff and no wonder they`re dancing in the streets of Southampton  as times like these have not been experienced for 30 years, when we finished second in the old First Division to Liverpool.

And yet experienced Saints followers like me are getting worried.  Surely it can`t go on like this, especially when the team currently appears at the top of the `form table`:-


You see, we`ve become accustomed to knowing our place, we have lived through years of perpetual struggle, through two administrations, we have suffered under the misguided regime of rogue managers and incompetent chairmen but all the while we have lived with the hope of financial security, inspiring management, beneficial ownership, a successful team and an end to our fears and default anxieties.

And now that the club seems finally to have achieved all of those long held hopes and aspirations, we can`t quite believe it.  And we worry that, in true Saints tradition, it will all come crashing around our ears and we will be back where we have nearly always been, knowing our place and dreaming of better times.  There is almost a sense of embarrassment with the attention we have been getting and maybe a sense of longing being developed for those good old days of torment and perennial disappointment, for such has been the transformation that we suspect the only way may be down.....but we`ll enjoy these good times while they last, however long that turns out to be.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Harping back to my recent post concerning the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1, amid fears that the way in which Britain might mark the Great War could affect relations with Angela Merkel`s administration,  a couple of months ago Germany  sent a special envoy to call on Britain `not to celebrate the centenary but to focus on the idea that the European Union brought peace to the continent.`

I got the sense that the German government was almost pleading with Britain not to go on mentioning the war too much.  Now I`m sure we`ll all try our hardest to comply with the wishes of our Teutonic chums but I wouldn`t be surprised if the war isn`t mentioned now and again over the next few years but we`ll just have to hope that we`ll get away with it. 

Thursday, November 07, 2013




I see that millions of Euros have allegedly been trousered by the Mafia instead of reaching the intended destination of helping disaster victims and rebuilding of the town of L`Aquila in Italy which was badly affected by last year`s devastating earthquake. More than £450million from the EU`s `Solidarity Fund` went to the town where thousands of homes were destroyed and where over 300 people died.  

But in a draft report on the effectiveness of the aid, it is claimed that some of the money was paid  to companies `with direct or indirect ties` to organised crime and accuses the EU Commission of allowing fraud to take place on its watch.   The Commission has predictably rejected the allegation of misuse and insists that the distribution of funds has been `monitored carefully.`  So that`s alright then.


It also transpires that British taxpayers will have to cough up an extra £800million after the EU spent nearly £6billion `in error` last year.   The European Court of Auditors have refused yet again to sign off the EU accounts - for the 19th year in succession - and revealed that EU spending errors are 23% up on the year before.  It seems that a staggering £5.7billion was paid out to `ineligible projects` of which Britain`s share is £832million.   The Auditors also found that control of another £117billion was only `partially effective.`  A European Commission spokesman attempted to defend the situation by insisting that taxpayers would not have to pay the £832million of Britain`s share, claiming that instead it would be `clawed back.`  So that`s alright then.


Now if I was a paid up member of a club that treated its members with such patronising contempt and which conducted its business in such a cavalier and unaccountable manner I`m pretty sure I would have ripped up my membership card by now and walked away from it for good.   But with the EU it doesn`t really matter - it`s just other people`s money.   So that`s alright then.  Isn`t it?.


Wednesday, November 06, 2013


TREAD SOFTLY..


I think I`m right in saying that HM Gov. is proposing to spend more than £50million over the next four years with a programme to `commemorate` the First World War - The Great War as it became known once it was over.   In making the announcement, Dave Cameron expressed the hope that remembering the `sacrifice` of British troops would "capture our national spirit in every corner of the country, in every school, workplace, town hall and local community in a commemoration that, like the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, says something about who we are as a people." 

Politicians and officials in Westminster and Whitehall are beavering away on detailed plans to mark this pivotal time in our history and already an extensive list of events has been drawn up.   Now it`s clearly true that occasions such as this do provide an opportunity for us to reflect on "who we are as a people" but if the only purpose of remembering The Great War is to provide us with a warm glow of national pride, especially when compared to the Diamond Jubilee by the Prime Minister no less, then I fear that the reality of that conflict will be buried in a welter of sentiment.

In searching for a more realistic reflection of The Great War, I was reminded that my old school chum, the late poet and critic William Scammell, wrote one of the most raw and evocative interpretations of what it must really have been like:-

Opaque and resonant as sacred texts
the names alone sound out a litany:
Passchendaele, Ypres, the Somme, Verdun...

Some dropped perfect but for a sweet
smudge of gas - others, dispersing, spanned
earth in the wildest hug.

Men flashed hissing to their elements
like spit gobbed on a stove.  One officer
in nomansland apologised to his troops

behind for lasting in such loud slow screams.
Four men unwound their lives to staunch
his uproar - failed, like the concerted knuckles

hammered round his teeth.  Gowned neutrally
for christenings, deaths, history thumbs
its cheap editions, weltering in echoes.

I think of Sassoon`s tall heart, contracting
fiercest love for his own men, one of whom
shot him from excess of zeal;  of Graves`s

stretched contempts.  The fires they grazed rot down
in village squares.  On memory`s floor words rut
and root, nosing blind and ghastly at the tongue.



Instead of four years of superficial tub thumping which runs the risk of merely creating a trivialised sideshow, surely our time, energy and resources would be better spent on a truly meaningful celebration of the centenary of the end of the Great War in 2018.   And  in the meantime, we should tread softly and respectfully in memory of the countless millions who perished or whose lives were changed forever.   We should remember them, rather than making the centenary of the start of the Great War an excuse for us to feel good about ourselves.

Monday, November 04, 2013

ALL PART OF THE JOB..


The revelation that 340 MPs have claimed over £200,000 for fuel costs in their constituency homes comes as no surprise as the `lessons` of the great expenses scandal - such as they were - are clearly forgotten.

And yet is seems that these tax payer funded energy bills are perfectly legitimate and approved by the Parliamentary Standards Commission as being `within the rules.`  Now I seem to recall that these `rules` allowed MPs to claim expenses on items that were essential for the proper discharge of their duties as Members of Parliament....or some such gobbledegook speech.

So, I`m wondering whether I can now claim my own energy costs on the basis that they are essential for the proper discharge of my duties as an aged pensioner struggling to survive on a fixed income in harsh financial circumstances.   All part of the job?


Saturday, November 02, 2013


ONCE BITTEN?
An Update from Serge Osvaldo
Our Restaurant Critic..


A little while ago, I reported on M. Snoppeur`s unfortunate experience when he took his family to lunch at a nearby riverside `restaurant.`  I won`t repeat the details here but they can be seen in my article `Sacre Bleu` posted on 4th October.   But I did mention that he had written to complain about the dismal standard of service and the quality of the food and I suggested he might have a long wait for a reply.

Mais voila!   A special delivery envelope arrived from the company yesterday with a letter of apology and a voucher for him to spend at any of the `restaurants` run by that company any time within the next six months.

M. Snoppeur`s reaction has been, how you say,... predictable.  First the surprise that it took only a month for the company to reply, given how long it took for the food to arrive after they had placed their orders but, secondly, the cruel irony of being handed a voucher to repeat the experience which caused him to complain in the first place.  Le Snoppeur likens it to being on a cruise ship struck by the norovirus.  You suffer its effects, you vow never to go on a cruise again and the shipping company offers you the chance of a trip round the harbour next time you`re in Southampton.

I am told that you English have a saying;  something about being once bitten and twice shy.   So too do we connoisseurs of cordon noir cuisine.   Merci, mais non, merci. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


A DISTANT ECHO...

....of a bygone age came to me in a book I`m currently reading.  The book is Stephen Chalke`s `The Way it Was,` and is a collection of more than 100 articles he wrote for Wisden Cricket Monthly, The Wisden Cricketer and The Times, providing glimpses of English cricket from 1946 onwards.

One reason I`m reading it for the second time is to help stave off the onset of the shorter days and longer nights that have arrived.  Before long, winter will be upon us with all its misery and my seasonal affective disorder (SAD) will drive me to seek therapy in cricket books and The Ashes series in Australia in an attempt to recapture the joy of those summer days in the sun.


The picture above shows a game of village cricket being played on the recreation ground in the village of St. Mary`s Platt here in Kent.   Beyond stands the church where Mrs. Snopper and I were married 52 years ago and behind the church the wind shaken wood, where we used to wander and and make our discoveries and where even now I quite often take Barney for his walkies.   And all those years ago, as now, cricket was a passion for me.   I used to captain a nearby village team who played on Sundays  and on Saturdays I played for Platt on the `old` recreation ground where we would stop playing football one week and play our cricket the following week on wickets that were consequently `interesting.`


My wife spent her childhood with her family in a cottage opposite the church and next door, in a much grander residence, lived the Barton family.   Michael Barton also played for the village team and such was his presence on the cricket field that he was always referred to as `Mr. Barton.` Small wonder really, for he had been captain of Surrey from 1948 until 1952, when Stuart Surridge took over from him.


Those were the days of the amateur captains and his appointment at Surrey came after a blue at Oxford, impressive displays for the Free Foresters and a successful career at Dunlop and he found himself captaining a team that included the Bedser twins, Bernard Constable, Laurie Fishlock, Arthur McIntyre, Jim Laker, Tony Lock and even a fledging Peter May.  But Barton turned out to be a successful and popular leader and his captaincy included a joint championship with Lancashire in 1950,  paving the way for Surridge to go on and lead Surrey to seven successive titles.  


In all he played 147 games for Surrey, scoring almost 6,000 runs with a top score of 192.   After his spell as captain, he became a commodity trader in the City but retained his links with Surrey and became their President in 1983.  He died in 2006 at the age of 91 and when I next visit Platt churchyard I will make a point of seeking out his resting place.


Now I will refrain from calling the fact that I played in the same village team as him as a claim to fame, rather quite the reverse for, at the time, the dismissive ignorance of youth made me blissfully unaware that I was playing alongside a cricketer of such quality and prominence.   I simply never knew and, as I now understand the significance of that distant echo, I am left regretful that it is only now that I  appreciate just what a privilege was presented to me on that village green all those years ago.